Residence hall becomes learning experience


The adage, “Live and learn,” has taken on a new meaning when it comes to the small residence hall at the corner of Fourth and Butler streets.

This summer, the Pioneer House underwent special renovations so it can be used as a sustainable lifestyle model for students who live in the residence hall and for students who are interested in learning about a number of ways to reduce their carbon footprint by making adjustments to their everyday lives.

During the 2012-13 academic year, several students conducted energy consumption and water use audits on the building. In May, work began to install eight photovoltaic panels and a solar thermal water heating system on its roof. The major upgrades to the water and electrical service were made possible by a $25,000 grant from the Dominion Foundation. At the end of summer, a website that provides real-time data regarding the building’s energy production went live.

“I’ll use the site in (Energy Systems) 101, which is a ground-level class, and (Energy Systems) 301, which is an Energy Conversion course,” says Associate Professor Andrew Grimm. “It will probably show up in other classes.”

summer13-cover​Pickering Associates was contracted to design and install the solar panels and solar water heating system. Dr. Chip Pickering, CEO of the company, says Marietta’s is the first institutional installation that his company has done. Most of the company’s work has been for larger corporations.

“What this will do for students is it will show them how the photovoltaic panels convert the sun’s energy into electrical energy and how the solar thermal panel converts the sun’s energy into thermal energy,” Pickering says.

The solar panels will be capable of generating about 2,900 kilowatt hours per year, which is less than 4 percent of the electricity used in the Pioneer House. Before the harnessed energy can be used, the direct current (DC), which comes out of the panels has to be converted to alternating current (AC). A control panel inside the Pioneer House provides net metering.

“The meter reads in two different directions, depending on how much solar energy is being collected and how much electricity is being used,” Pickering says.

Though the College installed five photovoltaic panels, there is room for future growth on the roof.

“This is capable of supporting 24 panels, so we can triple the size of this without having to upgrade the distribution system,” Pickering says. “If we took advantage of the entire roof area, it could hold 90 panels, but then we’d have to upgrade the distribution system.”

More information about the upgrades to the Pioneer House can be found in the upcoming edition of Trailblazer, which hit the mail Sept. 6.